Gordon Henry Stills, a former Baltimore City College principal who enjoyed writing and poetry, died of congestive heart failure March 4 at the Hospice of the Chesapeake. The Crownsville resident was 88.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Caroline Street, he was the son of Charles Stills Sr., a deacon at Faith Baptist Church, and his wife, Clara, a deaconess at the church. He was a 1950 graduate of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and earned an English degree at Morgan State University, from which he later received a master’s degree.
“My father was a leader from the outset of his formative years,” said his son, Quinn Stills of Los Angeles. “At Morgan he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, was the president of the Drama Club, member of the student council, newspaper editor and student delegate to a model United Nations at Cornell University.”
He was also named an honor scholar in English.
After graduating from Morgan, Mr. Stills joined the Army and served with the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He left military service as a lieutenant.
In 1954 he became a city schools teacher and, among other assignments, taught at the Booker T. Washington School. He became chair of the English Department at Frederick Douglass High School and was assistant principal at the Calvert Education Center and Gwynns Falls Junior High School. In the 1960s he was a part-time proofreader at the Afro-American newspaper and was summer school principal at Clifton Park Junior High School.
“My father was often sent to troubled schools,” said his son. “He could turn around a school that needed it."
Mr. Stills was named principal of Baltimore City College in 1977.
“Over the summer he wrote personal letters to troubled students,” his son said. “He had an expectation that the student should be asset to the community where he lived. He worked to keep students in school, but he was not afraid to expel one.”
He retired in 1983 after serving as principal at Northern Parkway Junior High School.
When school was closed, he ran the Summer Writing Opportunity Program at Friends School.
Mr. Stills lived in Northwest Baltimore for many years. He had a dream to live on a larger piece of property and purchased three acres in Crownsville, where he later built a home.
“My father was a man of many passions,” his son said. “He held season tickets to the Baltimore Colts and was a frequent visitor to Memorial Stadium to see the Oriole baseball greats, including Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray.”
Mr. Stills also operated a wedding photo shop at Mondawmin Mall and later near Pimlico Race Course. He late ran the Thank You Shoppe, in Hamilton, which supplied trophies, plaques and elaborate balloon designs for festive events.
“I have wanted to be a school teacher since I was in the seventh grade,” he said in a 1968 article in the Afro-American. “But I wanted to be a businessman all my life.”
He was also a reader and a writer. In 1952 he published “Temporary Reprieve,” a collection of his musings and poetry. From 1955 to 1960 he edited Circles, a poetry magazine. From 1977 to 1981 he wrote personal essays that appeared on the Evening Sun’s op-ed page.
He met his future wife, Lorraine Bass, while both were on the faculty at Northern Parkway Junior High School. They exchanged their vows of marriage in a counselor’s office at the school about a half-hour before classes let out.
“Michael Franch, the leader of the Baltimore Ethical Society, a humanistic religious fellowship, officiated,” said a Sun account of the 1981 wedding. “Cookies, Cokes and reportedly a bit of champagne were served.”
Mr. Stills was a longtime member of the Baltimore Ethical Society.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday the Enoch Pratt Hall of the First Unitarian Church, Charles and Hamilton Streets.
In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Andre Davis of Baltimore, and two daughters, Adrian Davis of Owings Mills and Noelle Stills of Baltimore. A daughter, Sanova Stills, died in 2017. His wife, a teacher, died in 2015. He was divorced from Shirley Noel and Janie Zimmer.